Kennel cough is also known as infectious tracheobronchitis (it has also been called Bordatellosis or Bordetella). It is a highly contagious respiratory infection affecting the airways. Kennel cough is commonly contracted in situations where dogs are confined in close contact, such as kennels, shelters, veterinary clinics, and dog shows. Stress, poor ventilation, and temperature and humidity extremes are also thought to increase the susceptibility of dogs to kennel cough.
Kennel cough is a complex disease that is caused by a number of infectious agents, including canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus 2, canine distemper virus, and a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica. Other viruses and bacteria may also be involved, although their roles are less well understood. These viruses and bacteria can act alone or together to cause kennel cough.
Usually, kennel cough is not serious, but some dogs can become seriously ill from kennel cough infection (especially very young, very old, or immunocompromised dogs). In any case, whenever a dog is coughing, a vet visit is highly recommended to sort out possible diagnoses and treatment options.
- Cough, usually a dry hacking cough (sometimes described as a goose honk cough). The severity and type of cough can be variable, however.
- Retching and gagging (as if something stuck in the throat)
- Expulsion of white foamy fluid
More serious signs
- Nasal discharge
- Loss of appetite
While a coughing dog should see a vet for an evaluation, if lethargy or loss of appetite accompany a cough, see your vet immediately. This may indicate serious complications, such as pneumonia.
The symptoms usually appear about 5-10 days after exposure to an infected dog and can last for up to 3 weeks, though symptoms may improve considerably within a few days. It is thought that dogs can remain contagious for several weeks after symptoms clear up.
Uncomplicated cases of kennel cough can often be diagnosed based on history (i.e. exposure to new dogs), symptoms, and physical examination. If some of the more serious signs such as nasal discharge, lethargy, and loss of appetite are present, further testing such as blood counts and radiographs (x-rays) may be recommended.
Your vet will recommend treatment based on the severity of illness in your dog. Many dogs recover without treatment, so your dog may simply require monitoring to ensure the symptoms are not worsening. For dogs with severe coughs, a cough suppressant may be prescribed, and in some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed to combat bacterial infections. If your dog has symptoms such as fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite, more intensive treatment will be recommended. Pressure from a collar can exacerbate kennel cough symptoms, so switching to a harness is recommended for the duration of the illness.
Both injectable and intranasal (administered in the nose) vaccines are available to protect against kennel cough. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate vaccination schedule based on your dog's situation and risk factors for kennel cough.
Vaccinations should be given at least a week or two in advance of situations where your dog is at risk for contracting kennel cough to be most effective. Most boarding facilities require vaccination against kennel cough (along with the routine annual vaccinations).